Opinion: There's a song in the air when religious and non-relgious alike think about the holiday season

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Jeffery and Katie Tatum portray Joseph and Mary as they wave to people at a drive-through Nativity scene at Dalton First United Methodist Church earlier this month.

What's your favorite Christmas song?

As we ponder this special day, whether our focus is a baby in a manger or a blizzard of wrapping paper, ribbons and presents, we likely have some sort of holiday tunes running around in our head.

Indeed, whether you are super religious or atheistic, you likely have a special song or songs from this time of year that have remained in your psyche.

I'm going to offer a list of 11 songs that spark 10 special memories for me. I invite you to do the same as we take a break today from county politics, state legislation, city plans and public school challenges - and COVID-19, of course.

- "Do You Hear What I Hear": The first time I remember hearing this song was on a car radio during a Christmas break from school when I was accompanying my mother as she called on business clients. (She could leave me in the car back then without the fear of being charged with child abuse.) Pretty sure it was Andy Williams singing, and the simple, story- like lyrics have made it one of my all-time favorite holiday tunes.

- "Angels We Have Heard On High": This song takes me back to a church service when I was probably in college. As the organ played, the younger friend standing next to me - now a Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputy - and I tried to outdo each other belting out the "Glorias" in the refrain.

- "Mistletoe": This bouncy tune - not the Justin Bieber version - made an impression on me when it was performed by singing and dancing ninth-graders during a holiday assembly when I was in junior high school. I was probably in seventh grade at the time, and having the confidence and the talent to perform in front of my fellow classmates seemed like a huge leap at the time.

- "Let It Snow": I never hear this song without thinking of the lip-syncing impression of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé singing this song that my sister and I used to do every Christmas for family members. The song was played on a Christmas songs compilation record - the kind every family owned - on the console stereo that every family had in the 1960s and 1970s.

- "The Holly and the Ivy": I vaguely was aware of this song but never the words until I was cast as the humble Bob Cratchit in the Chattanooga's Little Theatre's (now the Chattanooga Theatre Centre) version of "A Christmas Carol" in 1985. The song was one of several we had to learn for crowd scenes, and my first adult stage production, so it remains memorable.

- "River": Introduced to me by a former newspaper colleague less than a decade ago, this song first appeared on Joni Mitchell's album "Blue" in 1971. Mournful and haunting, and about a romantic breakup, it's not really about Christmas but is set in the Christmas season,

- "Merry Christmas Darling": Before I was married, it always seemed I was never dating anybody around Christmas, so this Carpenters tune - with Karen's rich voice pining about someone she missed - always made me sad but also a little excited for what might be one day. A Wall Street Journal article this week detailed how Richard was given the lyrics in 1966 by a choir director who had written it for his sweetheart in 1946 but learned the romance was over before he could give it to her. The Carpenters eventually recorded it in 1971.

- "Away in a Manger": I feel sure I learned this song in Sunday school at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church as a child. What makes it even more special is that our son probably learned it there - in the church's daycare - 35 years later. The church had offered its services where other facilities wouldn't for a child on a heart monitor, so its outreach reminded me of the stable that sheltered Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus when there was no room at the inn.

- "Hark the Herald Angels Sing": This Charles Wesley hymn is enjoyable to hear and sing, but for several generations it has been synonymous with the close of television's "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Standing around the Christmas tree they have decorated for the beleaguered Charlie Brown, his friends surprise him with the bejeweled sapling, then break into full voice with the hymn.

- "Silent Night"/"Joy to the World": These two hymns are sung annually almost back to back in our church's sanctuary Christmas Eve services, and the juxtaposition is always touching. First comes "Silent Night" in a darkened nave lit by the handheld candles of attendees, reminiscent of the night when the Christ child was born in Bethlehem. Then "Joy to the World" in the now light-filled space, giving word to the exultation that has come from the birth, life, death and resurrection of the savior that the baby would be for the world.

Indeed, there's a song in the air. Embrace it, and enjoy a wonderful, joyous Christmas day.